Thank you for the opportunity to address the Scottish Fabians this afternoon.
The challenge you have put before me is to offer some reflections and some thoughts on how to renew and rebuild the Scottish Labour party.
A lot of my time these recent weeks has been spent thinking about this very challenge and I welcome the opportunity to speak some of it aloud today.
I wish we were meeting here today in the shadows of a great Labour victory .
I wish my newspaper this morning had been full of analysis of a Queen’s speech written by Ed Miliband.
That our membership of the European Union was not under threat
That Dennis Skinner could arrive at 8am to get his seat rather than have to beat the birds.
And that the change we fought so hard to see could be realised.
But we were defeated, here in Scotland and across England, and it was agonising.
And in defeat, it is natural for us to turn to the highlights of our history to find solace, comfort.
We’d turn our backs to the harsh winds of truth and huddle together for safety.
Grieve together for what might have been and then, more often than not, move on in broadly the same direction we’ve taken before.
And sometimes that road has worked; a slight detour, a simple delay along a path to success. I minor adjustment on the course for better times ahead.
Not this time.
This is but an episode in a series of defeats that the Scottish Labour Party has now entered. We have been here too often in recent years. The answer cannot be to keep calm and carry on campaigning.
Politics in Scotland has now changed quite fundamentally, and we have but one chance to get it. And get it we must.
Not through narrow self interest, or an arrogant presumption that there must always be a Labour Party in Scotland.
But because we believe our values and principles applied in practical policy can change the lives of people here in Scotland, across the UK and around the world.
Never let a good crisis go to waste. What we see today as a disaster we can chose to redefine as a huge opportunity.
A chance to shake off every presumption, every bureaucratic “aye been” weight around our necks, and carry forward only our values. Everything else is baggage.
Like you, I am proud of our history and our movement.
During the election, we used that history to great effect in party political broadcasts. Set against the dulcet tones of David Tennant, the fighters and believers of our movement told their stories.
Working people were told they’re not fit to govern, so Keir Hardie formed the Labour Party.
Scotland and Labour – a nation and movement, fighting for justice in the shipyards and mills.
We cleared the slums and built the NHS; created the welfare state, state pensions and the national minimum wage.
Is it any wonder, with those achievements, that people had high expectations of us? Expectations that we failed to meet.
Is Labour history, or is Labour history the problem?
The great danger in constantly reminding people of our past is that we look increasingly of the past.
While there’s no doubt that we can be immensely proud of what we have done, in a rapidly changing world it’s the future that counts. Understanding it, shaping it. Meeting the hopes and dreams and quelling the fears of those facing it.
No longer should we tell the black and white stories. We need to be in full technicolour surround-sound. We need to be living our values – at the heart of movements of people driving change in their communities, online and around the world. Driven by the technology in the palm of their hand and at a revolutionary pace.
Because Labour is not history. But to guarantee its future we have to accept four realities.
Firstly that the world is big, interconnected and rapidly ever-changing. Isolationism, looking inward, thinking we can look after ourselves inside our own borders isn’t the answer.
There’s nothing to fear if we are brave enough to be relentlessly internationalist in our outlook and engaged with the issues. Leaning in.
Secondly, preparing our people and our economy for smart technology and low carbon century isn’t just a good idea, it’s a fundamental matter of basic survival.
The third is that one we touched on in the general election, that our children living better and more productive lives than us is no longer a given, but something that we will have to sweat and compete, innovate and struggle to accomplish every day.
And finally, that massive inequality destroys societies and crushes hope. We see it at home and we see it across the world.
But here’s the good news. Our values and principles are not only fit but right for the future we face.
We have long argued that tackling inequality does not and should not mean being opposed to either individual achievement or wealth creation. We are in the business of redistribution, the business of sharing power and wealth for the common good.
We believe that people working together, in real partnerships of power and responsibility, will always achieve more together than they could alone.
We believe in the power of education. The great liberator and equaliser. Skilling our people, all of them, not for one trade but for an ever changing world: our number one priority.
We believe that the purpose of government is to help all citizens achieve the best possible outcomes for their own lives, no matter the odds. No matter how big the barriers.
We believe in the primacy of people. In the unbound potential of every citizen and family, neighbourhood and community. We exist to breakdown the barriers between them.
Nationalism offers no answers here. Yes it unites a people with one voice in anger. But it always unites against something, or against someone. It is a false unity whose roots are really division. There’s no common thread or understanding of how to channel that anger into action. Protest yes, but not progress.
Nationalism never built a school, a hospital, the welfare state or the Scottish Parliament. And it can’t protect those things either because the problems we face are global, international ones. They are not unique to us but are replicated around the world.
It is nationalism which forces people to turn inwards from a harsh wind.
The best day of the 2015 General Election campaign for me was the day I travelled to Stornoway, a place well versed in coping with unforgiving weather.
I was there to support our fantastic candidate Alasdair Morrison. Together we visited the Hebridean Seaweed Company run by local businessman Martin Macleod.
Seaweed is a booming industry in Scotland, and with the right governmental support it could grow exponentially. Dried in the open air, roasted and ground down, the final product is so versatile it finds its way out of Stornoway harbour in everything from bags of cattle feed to the most refined beauty products in the world, destined for the most exclusive 5 star resorts. A great modern Scottish success story.
Mr McLeod has been farming seaweed for years, but he soon realised that his method was counter productive. Farming the seaweed by pulling it out at the roots was easy, but it would take years to grow back, forcing them to forage further and further afield for new supplies, with no guarantee of success.
So he set about building a new machine, from scratch. Basically a tractor for shallow waters. This machine didn’t pull the seaweed out from the roots, it cut it back like a lawnmower. The great prize being that the seaweed grew faster and in abundance.
By building a new machine, he’d preserved the fundamentals, given it a sustainable long term future and guaranteed a plentiful supply for today.
There are some in the Labour movement who want to rip our party out at the roots, to see what grows back.
I reject that course. What we need is to value what we have more. To ensure the machine we build nurtures and protects it.
That does not mean business as usual – far from it. We have to accept that if we don’t change our ways, there will be nothing left to protect. Scottish Labour must rebuild and refresh so it is fit to represent modern day Scotland.
It will not happen overnight. There is no wheeze or magic bullet. We have to take the time to listen and learn, find the space to think and change and rediscover the courage to lead and persuade.
But we also have a job to do. We cannot lose sight of the challenges we face as a society. A period of reflection perhaps but we cannot afford to turn inward and forget the very cause that we exist for, to represent Labour values of fairness and equality in every debate our country faces.
And we continue to face many debates in which I believe Labour values will be key.
This week, the UK Government confirmed that we will be holding a referendum on our membership of the European Union and I am sure like many progressive people, I will be campaigning to keep those strong ties with our close neighbours.
I will be campaigning for a Yes vote. To stay in Europe for largely the same reason that I campaigned for Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom: that economically and socially, we are stronger working in co-operation with others than standing apart.
And there are many lessons we can take from our experience of last year’s referendum into this next one: we know that an honest, democratic and lively conversation about what we want for society is healthy and that everyone should have the right to listen, participate and cast their vote.
That is how referendums should be conducted – as inclusively and democratically as possible.
The referendum on Scottish independence engaged people who never before had shown in interest in politics, including those 16 and 17 year-olds who played such an important role last year.
So that is why I believe we should be opening up this debate to everyone who has a stake in our future.
Yes, those same 16 and 17-year-olds should get the opportunity to vote again. But I would go further. When we had our referendum in September, just under 90,000 EU nationals registered to take part and it was the better for it.
Put simply, I believe EU nationals who have chosen to live their life here, and make the UK their home, should have the right to vote in a referendum on the future of the country.
EU nationals make important contributions to our communities, and to our economy.
The influx of talent, creativity, and a different perspective of work and culture enriches our society as a whole, resulting in a more diverse and innovative society.
We as a country benefit from the free movement of people across Europe, and we should not continue to enjoy this freedom while restricting political participation.
Voting rights are a matter of democratic principle, and I strongly feel it is unfair to exclude EU nationals from a fundamental referendum.
The referendum reinvigorated political participation in Scotland. A referendum on Europe can afford us the same opportunity.
Rather than divide and exclude people, we should be coming together as a society to decide the best way forward.
There is much to celebrate about our EU membership, and our prosperity, security and millions of UK jobs depend on it.
Yes, there are very real concerns in our communities about our EU membership. People mistrust power wielded from afar. The European Union and its ways are far from perfect.
But if we close the door to Europe we stand to lose so many benefits to our economy, of inward investment, trade and crucially, jobs across Scotland and the United Kingdom.
So if we are to have an honest debate about our EU membership, and take the opportunity that this referendum represents, then we need to involve everyone who wants a say.
And we should resist the temptation to divide and exclude as a general rule, choosing instead to engage and share. To conduct our politics with less harsh anger and more good humour.
The political landscape in Scotland has changed. Not because the map looks decidedly more yellow and not simply because a nationalism has swept the electorate. There is a nuance missing from common analysis.
There is a ground swell of political interest, but it’s not passive. Not watching the debating chamber nor writing to an MSP and waiting for them to take care of a problem. It is fiercer than that, it is hungry to be more engaged.
Others learnt this lesson quickly during the referendum, we did not. Many in Scotland are looking for a route into politics which begins at their door and takes them on the journey of driving the change they want to see.
The lesson here is that to gain power, we have to give it away. We have to empower those who share our values to feel part of our movement, to be in control of the change we collectively seek to make. We have to let people in.
The biggest problem the Labour movement faces is that their aren’t enough people in it. We need to rebuild a movement that isn’t afraid of letting people in and letting people lead.
I don’t want to knock on a door and have someone ask “what have Labour done for me lately” anymore. With the movement I have in mind, they will have been part of that progress. They will know.
I want to put debate – the power of argument and conciliation, listening and constructing ideas – back at the heart of our movement. We pioneered political education in the last century, but we have forgotten how to share ideas through discussion and find consensus from difference.
If we commit ourselves to doing policy in the light of day and with the participation of the whole of Scottish society, we will be better for it as activists, and our movement will be better served with an inexhaustible supply of innovation and people-centred policy.
My message to everyone in Scotland, of all parties and none, is that if you share Labour’s values, then there is a place for you in shaping Labour’s future.
And over the months to come I want to create the opportunities for that to happen.
Our core principle is that we are stronger together and we build a better future through cooperation and collaboration than we ever will through confrontation. That resources pooled are resources shared and resources shared are opportunities multiplied.
Now is the time to articulate that, not by looking back to the mines and shipyards of the past, but by looking forward to new kinds of collaboration.
A manufacturing where intellectual property is as much a raw material as the steel itself.
Now is the time, when the IMF and the World Bank are arguing for reducing inequality as the trade unions have always done, to seize that core value of ours and describe how we can lead the world in an equality revolution. One as transformational as the industrial revolution that once created the conditions for our movement’s origins.
So we should never forget those great heroes of our past, not least the Fabian thinkers. But they looked forward to us not back behind them. And were they here today, they would be saying don’t look back to us for where Labour should go now.
If we taught you anything it should be that the watchword of Labour is always forward to the future.